To understand protest in America, one must understand protest and one must understand America. More generally, the study of resistance against authority may adopt two foci: authority (structure) and resistance (action). The leading practitioners of the structuralist approach to contentious politics—McAdam, Tarrow, and Tilly—have jointly systematized their ideas. This synthesis, which I call Synthetic Political Opportunity Theory (SPOT), exerts domination and hegemony over the field. Its upstart rational action challenger is the Collective Action Research Program (CARP). I outline the basic presuppositions of SPOT and CARP and describe their different approaches to the structure-action problem of constituting social order. I then explore the potential of a CARP-SPOT consortium. I conclude that synergisms of the perspectives are possible but that trade-offs are inevitable: strong on action, weak on structure and vice versa; strong on resistance, weak on authority and vice versa; and strong on protest, weak on America and vice versa. Hence, we need creative confrontations, which should include well-defined combinations rather than grand syntheses, of rationalist and structuralist approaches to contentious politics.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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